Family, Grief & Love at the Holidays
I just published a new episode of the Virtuish Podcast. I wanted to expand on what we discuss in the episode and present some of it in writing for those who aren’t podcast listeners.
On the episode, Ashley & I took a break from discussing conspirituality and shared personal stories and insights about spending time with family during the holidays. We explored the ways in which we have found peace in our relationships (particularly, with our parents), through trauma, grief and the vulnerabilities of being seen by those who know us best (and, sometimes, don’t know us at all). Here are some of my major takeaways and expansions from the discussion.
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Connection Requires Vulnerability
The holiday season raises emotions simply by its nature, so it’s essential to understand that when we’re with our families, it’s always vulnerable because our families really know us. They’ve seen all of the parts of ourselves that we would prefer to bury and hide from the world. They remember our failures and major fuckups, all the things we said and did that we regret completely, with our entire being. These relationships shine a bright light on our deepest insecurities.
Vulnerability Requires Space to Recover
Everyone has their own capacity for vulnerability, and it’s really to remember to take space for ourselves, in order to create balance when we’re with others, particularly our family. We need to rest and recover ourselves in between stressors; we describe this space-taking in the episode as a practice for centering or grounding ourselves.
It’s really easy to become entangled in old family dynamics without this space between, especially for those of us who were formed in really co-dependent families, so I find that proactively managing my emotions is really key for my time with other people (not just family).
Accepting Who Our Loved Ones Are
Ashley and I are lucky to have great families, but that doesn’t mean there are no issues, or that there hasn’t been wounding and trauma, codependency and abuse in the relations. We discussed acceptance, loving people for who they are and not for who they want them to be, and this is such a critical point that Ashley raises. She also mentions not hanging on to what you feel you need from them but aren’t going to get.
Some things are not going to change, and the question we have to ask ourselves is, can we be ok with that? Can we choose to make a habit of acceptance with this person in as many moments as possible?*
Ashley & I both agree that it felt like we felt that we were trying, trying, trying to find acceptance and make the shift in the way they relate to our parents, and then one day it clicked and things were different.
*The answer may be no, and that’s OK too. Some things can not just be “gotten over,” they take time. I want to remind the reader that this take is my own, shaped by my life experience, and in no way am I telling anyone to just get over their wounds. I’m lucky to have had 20 years of therapy and mental health support to help me get here, and it’s an ongoing effort. There were experiences in my childhood that were pretty unforgivable, and it all has to come to the surface; I’m still chipping away at it, and probably always will be. It’s been really fucking ugly along the way.
I’m also learning, more and more, that it’s ok to let things go. We do not have to make everything “healthy.” We do not have to fix everything. We are not betraying yourself by letting some things go, as long as we are implementing boundaries and limiting access to ourselves as necessary.
Boundaries Are Essential
Jeff Brown writes about boundaries being gates and not walls, and this concept has helped me learn to form really healthy bonds, where I do not receive the projections of others if the impact would hurt me. I’m grateful and so lucky that my family is respectful, well-intended and willing to follow my lead in showing them how I want to relate to them. I’m grateful that they didn’t abandon me at any point as I was learning to communicate more clearly, be less reactive, and to stop interfering with things that aren’t any of my business.
Everything I’m writing and speaking about would not have been made possible had I not started being honest with myself and proactively honoring my limits and my needs. Disentangling from co-dependency is hard, but possible for some of us.
Cycle Breaking Is Mostly Incremental
Microshifts are enough. You do not have to completely break the cycle, you are not failing if you are not healing every wound in your lineage. It’s been helpful for me to do what I can to change dynamics, while knowing when to disengage because things aren’t changing; knowing when to leave and when to stay in order to protect myself.
In the episode I said that the word “protect” rubbed me wrong, and in some contexts it does. It can feel defensive, but there are times when we do need to make sure we are well guarded.
Going in With an Objective
When I go into time with my family, I ask myself what my objective is. How do I want to experience this time? What are the triggers that might set me off, and how can I set myself up to stay centered as much as possible? Where will I go for my alone time, who can I call if I need an escape, or to have a good laugh when I’m stressed out?
Adjusting Expectations and Embracing the Mess
It’s delusional to expect that everything will be perfect and lovely when we are immersed with our families for a period of time. The culture informs us that the holidays are the most joyful time, without discussing the heaviness and sadness that can come with love and connection. It’s OK if it’s a shitshow.
Celebrating and Mourning Are a Tapestry Being Woven Together
Ashley brings up that grief isn’t an isolated incident. She beautifully summarizes that it’s an undercurrent in all major events. She reminds us that it affects us deeply as we make rites of passage in our life without the people who have left us; that the holidays and grief are so intertwined, with the celebrating and the mourning being a tapestry woven together. And it’s not bad, or about getting “over” it, it’s about adding layers and learning to live with it.
Preemptive Grief Is Also a Thing
Anticipating the loss of our loved ones can be painful, and I find that the older I get, the more affected I am by moments of considering that one day, at any sudden moment, I will be pulled deeply into grief again. Wrecked by it. But that for now, I can honor my relationships and do the best that I can to be fully in love with my loved ones and all of our issues.
The Holidays Will Always Be Bittersweet, and It’s OK to Call It What it Is.